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ATi All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500 DV Review

Highs

  • Very powerful multimedia abilities

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 6

Lows

  • No out of the box HDTV support as promised (lacking component outputs)
The ATi All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500DV is a real treat for the multimedia enthusiast.

Summary

This card is for the multimedia enthusiast who wants it all. If you are a die-hard gamer that simply wants DVD playback and TV out, your best bet is to look somewhere else. This is not a card meant solely for gaming, but rather a compromise for the gamer and multimedia enthusiast. The 8500DV carries a hefty price tag at $399, but look at everything you get: A DVD player, Digital video recorder, video capture card, TV tuner and more, the $399 might not seem as bad. Where areas a DVD player may be outdated as well as a digital video recorder, the AIW 8500DV allows for expansion. Hard drive not big enough for your programming…. Throw in a new drive. ATI has hit the mark with this card and other than a few little irritating problems this card is one of the best on the market. The ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500DV is a real treat for the multimedia enthusiast.

On paper the new ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500DV could be the perfect video card of its day. With its Radeon core technology and the heavy multimedia capabilities, the ATI AIW 8500DV is great for gaming as well as just about anything else multimedia related.

The ATI AIW uses the same Radeon core technology present in the Radeon 8500, but the 8500DV runs slower than the regular 8500, a card which is geared more towards gamers. The 8500 runs with a core speed of 275 MHz and a memory clock speed of 550 MHz where the 8500DV runs on a 230MHz core and a 380 MHz memory clock. The differences are quite large and it boggles me as to why ATI would do this. The price of the AIW is substantially higher than the 8500 thus moving it out of the same market as the 8500.

While the core and memory speeds of the 8500 beat the 8500DV, where the 8500DV really shines is in its multimedia capabilities. The 8500DV has an onboard TV tuner, a Firewire (IEEE1394) port directly on the card, a DVI connector with a VGA converter packaged on the box, and a unique external adapter with inputs on one side of the dongle and outputs on the other side.

External Adapter

The external adapter box has on one side the following inputs:

• DV (IEEE1394) input leaving an extra one on the card itself for a total of 2 Firewire ports
• S-Video input
• Composite (RCA) Video inputs
• Right left Channel inputs (RCA)

The output jacks on the other side of the adapter consist of:

• Right/left (RCA) Channel out
• Composite (RCA) Video Out
• S-Video out
• S/PDIF Out

The adapter is relatively easy to configure and connects to a proprietary jack on the back of the 8500DV card. There are two audio jacks on the adapter allowing you to hook up computer speakers via a pass-through cable. In essence, you can hear any audio plugged into the adapter through your computer speakers. I found the adapter jack on the back of the card to be somewhat flimsy, often coming unconnected from the video card itself. Other than the pins themselves there does not seem to be any sort of lock mechanism to keep the adapter plugged in.

Software and Manuals

I found the software that comes with the 8500DV very complimenting to the card. There is a nice mix of multimedia software with gaming software, highlighting both the cards multimedia and gaming abilities. ATI uses their own proprietary software to control the multimedia aspects of the card and after years of making their own software, there could not be anything better developed for this card.

Called the “Multimedia Center”, the aforementioned proprietary software is some of the best on the market. Both extremely user friendly with integrated pop-up windows and help guides, there is little left to be confused about. The TV and DVD software has some of the best visual playback I have seen to date. While the integrated help guides are great for troubleshooting, I found the user manual to be lacking.

About one inch thick, you would think this manual to be detailed down to the smallest detail, yet when opened you would quickly find the manual to be thick for a reason. It houses instructions in 6 languages and for 3 generations of AIW cards, the All-In-Wonder, the All-In-Wonder Radeon 7500 and the All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500DV. All three cards have different features and abilities, so expect a lot of confusion when reading this manual. With hard-to-read diagrams and the confusion of separating the 3 cards, I would recommend sitting down patiently and reading through the manual many times so you can understand things. There is also a separate Multimedia Center Guide to help with the software aspects of the card.

I found the Multimedia Center to be a lot better in its explanation of the included software. Presented in only one language and representing one suite of software, the guide explained very clearly how to use the included software.

Overall I found it odd how the Multimedia Center’s user guide was so strong while the Radeon 8500DV user manual was very unclear and could use some major improvements.

Performance

For those of you who plan on gaming with the 8500DV, there is no disappointment. Even though the 8500DV runs at a slower core and memory frequency it is still a fantastic card to use. We are not a gaming website so I am going to limit our 3D-related tests to 3DMark 2001. Our test system was setup as follows:

General Settings
Desktop Resolution: 1024×768
Color Depth: 16-bit
V-Sync: Disabled
Processor: 1.47GHz Athlon XP 1700+
Memory: 512 MB PC2100 DDR-SDRAM
Motherboard: Abit KR7A RAID (with the RAID disabled)
Motherboard chipset: VIA KT266A VT8366 North Bridge chipset w/ VT8233 South Bridge
Hard-Drive: IBM 30GB 7200RPM DMA/100
IDE Interface: Ultra ATA/100
CD/DVD: Toshiba 10X DVD-ROM
Power Supply: Antec 300 Watt
Operating System: Windows XP Pro
Video Cards:
ATI ALL-IN-WONDER RADEON 8500DV
ATI drivers: 6.13.10.6015

3dMark 2001 scores

Installation and setup

Even though this is a very complicated card, the installation and setup were extremely simple. The physical card itself is very small when you think about everything that is on it. The TV tuner itself is ¼ the size of previous integrated TV tuners on AIW products. The software and hardware setup was very intuitive, often detecting things automatically without having to tell it. The TV tuner auto detected our cable connection and station line-ups automatically! One problem I found was that my area had about 6 different cable programming options, so I had to list which station I received on which channels so the integrate Gemstar Guide+  would know my line-up. I have to look up by area code to find it. So if you live in a large metropolitan area I would recommend calling your cable provider and asking what channel line-up you have before installing this card. I put the blame clearly on my lack of knowledge versus the 8500DV’s ability. The card did what it was supposed to do.

Audio and Video performance

The Radeon 8500 DV provides excellent audio and visual performance. The sound was very crisp and clear during both our headphones and 4.1 system tests on both computer and home theater speakers. Using the adapter dongle, the video and audio were both excellent as well.

I wish that the SPDIF output were on the back of the card versus being on the dongle because the cable just looks tacky in my opinion. The AIW 8500DV provides AC-3 Digital audio output for Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The decoding is done by your receiver, not the card itself so unless you have decoding abilities in your receiver (most receivers do by now) don’t expect 5.1 sound.

One thing that is very misleading is how ATI advertises the 8500DV as having HDTV support. So while the card DOES provide HDTV decoding via the iDCT there is one little problem, the 8500DV does not ship with component video outputs and even as of this writing (June 2002) they do not provide any component video options. On their site ATIsays a component output package will not be available until sometime in 2002. Well, 2002 is here, where is this package? This will be a HUGE disappointment for those building an HTPC or those demanding the latest in technology. This is very confusing to the consumer and could be considered false advertising. My rant is over, but I cannot express how disappointed I was when finding this out.

There was something that surprised me in the Radeon 8500DV package and that was the inclusion of an RF remote control. The remote is very easy to use and has an extremely long range. The buttons are easy to read and you can even control the mouse pointer with the remote. I found that my computers mouse still worked even though the remote could control the mouse as well. There were no compatibility issues. I do think the buttons on the remote are the cheapest I have ever seen to date. They smooshed down as though they were filled with air! The remote has a clean and sleek-silver look; the buttons though, leave something to be desired.

Plugging in a camcorder or digital camera was a snap. With the included firwire IEEE1394 ports in two convenience locations you could have a CD-burner plugged into the card and a digital camera plugged into the external adapter. The included video editing software is easy to use and very intuitive.

The perfect HTPC Video Card?

For those of you interested in building an HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer), this is the card for you. Everything is included to further your experience. You now have the ability to consolidate your Tivo, DVD player, VCR and computer into one unit. There is excellent DVD playback with the potential for progressive scan ability once the component video package is released this year. You have possible HDTV support as well as the ability to record live TV shows to your hard drive ala Tivo or Replay TV. There is also an integrated TV guide, which can be updated through a network connection to the Internet… There is, however, no DTS out – only Dolby Digital (at least for the time being) – which is very disappointing. However, there could possibly be a software upgrade for this in the future. Using a wireless keyboard or mouse, gaming with one of the best graphic chips on the market has never been better.

For those Gamers

Compared to other cards on the market like the GeForce3 Ti 500 or even its’ cousin the Radeon 8500, the AIW 8500DV looks like a lower end card when it comes to gaming performance. If you absolutely need to have 100fps in Quake 3 at 1600×1200 running 32bit color then this is probably not your card. This card will play at 1024×768 at 32bit color without any hitches and at a decent fps, though it is the regular Radeon 8500 that shine when it comes to gaming.

Conclusion

This card is for the multimedia enthusiast who wants it all. If you are a die-hard gamer that simply wants DVD playback and TV out, your best bet is to look somewhere else. This is not a card meant solely for gaming, but rather a compromise for the gamer and multimedia enthusiast. The 8500DV carries a hefty price tag at $399, but look at everything you get: A DVD player, Digital video recorder, video capture card, TV tuner and more, the $399 might not seem as bad. Where areas a DVD player may be outdated as well as a digital video recorder, the AIW 8500DV allows for expansion. Hard drive not big enough for your programming…. Throw in a new drive. ATi has hit the mark with this card and other than a few little irritating problems this card is one of the best on the market. The ATi All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500DV is a real treat for the multimedia enthusiast.

Pros:
• Very powerful multimedia abilities
• Above average gaming performance
• One of the best software packages on the market
• Inputs/Outputs galore
• Addition of two firewire (IEEE1394) ports

Cons:
• No out of the box HDTV support as promised (lacking component outputs)
• Flimsy external adapter connection
• Poor and confusing manual/documentation

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